Over the Wall by Peter Wartman
Warned off by a demon not to enter the empty city, the girl from the country village persists in her desire to pass through the invisible barrier around the city that keeps the demons in. This young girl is the main character of Peter Wartman’s Over the Wall, a charming coming-of-age fantasy graphic novel for young readers. It is a quick read and is light on text to make room for the wonderful art that uses only purple in addition to the black and white drawings, a good choice in that it makes Over the Wall a visually unique graphic novel. Though it’s short, it’s a great read and one I recommend highly for young readers, though I certainly enjoyed reading it as an adult.
The story starts off with our young protagonist gathering together a few items in a backpack: It is nighttime, and we can see her parents asleep in bed in this one-room home. She reaches carefully up to the sheets to sneak a small totem out of the hands of one of her sleeping parents. She leaves behind a note that says: “ Mom and Dad, I know I have a brother even if I can’t remember his name. He’s still alive, I’m sure of it. He just needs help. Don’t worry about me, I know I will be fine. I know what I need to do. I’m going to find him.” Leaving behind the note, she makes her way out of their home, through the countryside, and up to the walls of the city. And this is where she meets the little demon who is about her size and who warns her away.
The question is, Why doesn’t this girl remember her brother’s name? We are given just enough information to piece together the backstory: The people in the country have a ritual during which they send out young boys to come of age in a rite of passage that involves their entering the city and coming back alive. If they don’t come back, then family and friends quickly start to forget what the boy looks like, what his name was, and eventually that he ever existed at all. The brother of our adventurer was one of a group of boys who entered the city the day before, but he was the only boy not to come back home. Our adventurer is a determined young girl who brashly ignores the demon’s warning and, much to the demon’s surprise, enters the city.
The demon is a likeable character who flies just behind the girl asking her all sorts of questions to get her to turn back. He seems genuinely worried for her safety, so we wonder what dangers must lurk in the city. That the demon is alarmed alarms us as readers and should alarm the girl, but she boldly presses on into the heart of the city with the demon as an unwanted companion. He asks her, “Do you even know if this brother exists?” Her reply is confident, “Maybe I know more than you think.” His response is ominous: “I hope you do! Otherwise you’re risking your life for a few vague memories.” Of course, she ignores all his warnings, and we get to go on her adventure with her.
This is a top-notch book for young readers, and I highly recommend it. The only reason that it does not get five stars is because of its brevity. The story seems rushed in places, and Wartman could have fleshed out the plot a bit more with even more backstory and more interactions with the demons of the city. But I would say that some of this complaint has to do with guessing the age it is intended for. On the back of the book, it lists the age as “Young Adult,” and I think it is aimed at a younger group than that. In comparing it with a book like Bone, the Harry Potter of comics for young readers, Over the Wall gets four stars: It is a solid book with beautiful art and an engaging narrative.